Feed the birds! And build a toad abode …

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 13 November 2016.

If you feed the birds in your garden you are helping wildlife, enjoying bird life near you and encouraging a band of live-in helpers to regularly visit your garden not only to eat what you feed them but also the garden pests that make your garden life a misery.

Wildlife experts reckon that they can tell where birds are fed, not just by bird-filled gardens but because in the area around a garden where birds are fed regularly there are many more birds than areas where there is no added food on offer. An army of helpers to eat those insects, slugs and snails that can ruin your plants.

Birds can be a garden’s best friend, so here are some tips to put more birds on your side.

Feed the birds
Blue tit in a garden, Chedworth. Christine Matthews. Licensed for re-use under Creative Commons attribution share alike 2.0 generic

Feed the birds – winter opening hours!

Feeding birds in gardens all year is recommended by conservation organisations but in winter food supplies are at their lowest, and even if you only feed in winter you can make a difference. And because food is in short supply you are likely to get visitors soon after you put food out, whereas in summer it can take a while for your bird food to hit the ‘must have place to eat’ guide among the local birds.

Try to balance the amount of food that you provide against the number of birds visiting you. That way you don’t create a surplus of food that can go mouldy or attract unwanted visitors, particularly rodents.

Good practice is to remove any uneaten food from a bird table each night and sweep away food dropped on the ground under it. Hanging bird feeders don’t need to be emptied but it is still good practice not to put out more food than is being eaten over a day or two.

Find more advice from the RSPB.

What’s on the menu?

Different birds like different food so offer different food to see which birds arrive. Read the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) simple guide on the foods that attract different birds.

Garden centres, pet shops, supermarkets and the RSPB sell a selection of seeds, suet and nibbles to suit garden birds. Why not feed the birds for Christmas with the RSPB bumper bird food gift box (or give it to the nature fan in your household and do two jobs in one!)

What’s never on the menu?

  • Any salted foods (which will dehydrate birds)
  • Loose peanuts that are not in a bird feeder where birds can peck and break them rather than take them whole (and choke)
  • It is not a good idea to feed cooked meat or  meat stuffs other than in fat balls because cooked meat may attract unwanted rodents.

How to feed the birds in your garden

Find a sturdy bush or tree you can see from the house, or a post or hooks where you can hang feeders, or buy a purpose built feeder station. Buy, fill and hang up feeders for different foods:

  • one that can hold black sunflower seeds and another for sunflower hearts that will attract finches, tits and sparrows
  • one for peanuts that will attract mainly tits
  • one that can hold fat or suet balls to attract mainly tits and sparrows.

Maybe as a Christmas present, add a ‘nyjer seed’ feeder to attract goldfinches. And go wild with a sturdy covered bird table where you can offer shop bought oat/fruit/fatty nibble mixes that will attract robins and blackbirds, apples (those soft ones that no-one will eat), finely chopped stale bread, uncooked oats, left over cooked rice.

Or give a window fixed bird feeder to friends without a garden so they can watch birds up close from their kitchen.

feed the birds
Bird feeding station, Loch Garten osprey centre. Hugh Venables. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License attribution share alike 2.0 generic.

It’s not only birds that can help your garden, ‘give nature a home’ and lots of wildlife will help

The RSPB isn’t only about birds either – though it’s called the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. By focussing on ‘give nature a home’ the RSPB is helping us recognise that all sorts of wildlife support each other – and can support us in our gardens. They offer a fantastic interactive website filled with with easy to follow instructions on how to make special places for wildlife in our gardens.

Today I am going out to set up a new bird cafe of feeders in a small tree in the middle of the garden and to build ‘a toad abode’ that might just become home to a gardening team of slug and insect eaters.

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